COVID-19 and the Class of 2020: ‘I expected to be stressed, but stressed about the good things’

The last installment in a series by WTOP’s Kate Ryan on local high school seniors and how they’re coping with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the end of their school careers.

Student: De’Asia Scott, 18
School: Dunbar High School, D.C.
Future: Lincoln University, Lincoln University, Pennsylvania
Major: Social work

By this time, De’Asia Scott, 18, expected to be fretting about the usual things: completing all her assignment on time, juggling a part-time job with classwork, balancing everything with the fun of prom, senior breakfast, and arrangements for graduation and the parties that would follow.

“I expected to be stressed, but stressed about the good things,” she said. “But in reality, I’m stressed about the same thing that everybody else is stressed about” — the coronavirus pandemic and the closures that came with it.

“I like school,” said De’Asia Scott; “I like to be in school.” (Courtesy Reach Incorporated)

Scott, a senior at Dunbar, said she is the type of student who does best with the back-and-forth that comes with being in a classroom, where a teacher can tell whether students are getting the lesson, and can adjust on the fly if need be.

For her, online learning, where students indicate a raised hand with a keystroke, just bogs things down.

“I like school,” Scott said. “I like to be in school. I’m not really a fan of in-home learning.”

The coronavirus outbreak also meant considering the risks at her part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. She said her employer made sure that Scott and her co-workers wore masks and gloves, and they washed their hands frequently. Scott said she was changing gloves every 30 minutes.

She followed the safety guidelines on and off the job, and “I’m making sure I’m not getting too close to anybody; I’m giving everybody their space.”

Scott has been a participant in Reach Incorporated, a program that pairs teenagers with younger students in a reading and mentorship program. “I want to go into social work, and that’s because of Reach,” she said. “I learned that kids have voices and they want to be heard.”

Scott will attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, a historically black college with a list of alumnae that includes poet Langston Hughes, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron.

COVID-19 and the Class of 2020

Like any high school senior who is weeks away from graduating, Scott said, “I just want school to be over. I want them to say ‘You graduated; you don’t have to do any more work — have a good summer.'”

WTOP's Kate Ryan talks with a senior at D.C.'s Dunbar High School about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

And she has a bit of advice for anyone who knows a member of the Class of 2020: “Give them a hug: tell them it’s going to be OK.” And she said that applies to graduates of all ages: middle school, high school or college. “Anybody who was supposed to graduate just needs support.”

‘This stuff’s really happening’

Student: JaShawn Evans, 18
School: Ballou Senior High School, D.C.
Future: Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia
Major: Chemical engineering

“I was looking forward to some ‘High School Musical’-type stuff,” JaShawn Evans, 18, said. He had been looking forward to prom, senior week and “all the perks of being a senior.”

In the District of Columbia, as in other school districts across the country, what started as a weeks-long closure expanded to a shutdown for the rest of the school year.

That was when he realized, “This stuff’s really happening,” he said. The coronavirus had gone from a regional outbreak to a global pandemic. “Then everything went down the drain.”

Finishing classes from home was frustrating — “I like doing my work in person” instead of having to navigate online lessons, he said. Even now, he said, the virus dominates his attention: “I’m just really waking up every morning to see if some new news will come out about us opening back up, or any kind of solution.”

Looking to the future is what keeps JaShawn Evans going. (Courtesy Reach Incorporated)

What’s kept him going is “looking forward to college, looking to my next step.” That next step includes attending Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, where he wants to major in chemical engineering.

“I always found I liked chemistry,” Evans said, and when he looked into the salaries that chemical engineers can earn, “I was like, ‘Why not mix something I like and making money together?'”

When he went on a tour of Old Dominion, “I liked it a lot,” he said. “It was more PWI.” That stands for “predominantly white institution,” he explained, as opposed to Ballou High School, in Southeast D.C., where 98% of the students are African-American. “I thought I’d go ahead and try something different.”

Like Scott, Evans is involved in Reach Incorporated, where its mentorship program helps fulfill their service requirement.

Evans credits the staff at Reach with helping him on the way to graduate.

“Mr. Mark and Miss Jusna, they’ve been real helpful to me,” Evans said (referring to Executive Director Mark Hecker and Deputy Director Jusna Perrin). “They call me on a constant basis to check on me and to make sure everything’s straight.”

WTOP's Kate Ryan talks with a senior at Ballou Senior High School in D.C. about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the same of two teachers at Ballou, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Miles, who have been staying in touch with students even as school winds down and remote learning tapers off. “They still email me to this day,” said Evans.

Even with that support, Evans said, finishing the year without the celebrations that cement class cohesion has made the end of the year more than bittersweet. “It’s been a struggle.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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